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An increase in demand for tower cranes brought about by the building boom in recent years means that contractors must plan ahead for crane rental. ~ Sam Tenney/DJC
With builders busy, cranes are hot commodity

By: Garrett Andrews on September 29, 2015 2:51 pm
 
It’s no secret that Portland is growing fast – the number of commercial building permits is up 8 percent over last year and the number of residential is up 10 percent, according to Portland’s Bureau of Development Services. To support the construction of all these buildings, cranes are needed. But with high rental fees and hefty monthly deposits – and often a trained rigger – cranes represent a heavy line item in project budgets.
According to contractors, the boom has meant they’ve had to get savvier about how they crane.

“People are busy,” said Bart Eberwein, executive vice president of Hoffman Construction – Portland’s largest construction firm. “Cranes aren’t something everyone has laying around. It’s getting tight.”

Hoffman owns nine cranes of different sizes, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to worry, Eberwein said. Much thought has to go into how it dispatches its fleet across numerous jobsites, and often it rents from one of the region’s handful of crane suppliers – Coast Crane, Axis Crane and Morrow of Salem, to name a few.

Andersen Construction doesn’t own any cranes; however, it has nine rented tower cranes currently in use. Securing a crane for a job can begin about six months out, with monthly deposits between $1,000 and $3,000 required. Renting a crane runs about $40,000, with around $10,000 to $15,000 needed each month to operate it.

“It’s a challenge,” said Phil Kennedy, an Andersen spokesman. “It’s gotten tougher, earlier. But there’s ups and downs in the industry, and we’re up right now.”

To be sure, the tightness in the market for tower cranes is a sign of a healthy construction industry, according to contractors and suppliers. The previous time this happened in Portland was during the housing boom approximately 10 years ago, when dealers predicted the problem would only worsen.

Midsize firm Lease Crutcher Lewis is mobilizing for a major project set to begin this week (the Wizer Block in Lake Oswego). It’s going to need two cranes for pouring of posttension concrete, hoisting of rebar and structural steel, and installing the exterior skin and mechanical units. That’s enough work to keep two cranes going for much of the project’s 24month timeline, project manager Matt Baker said.

Coast Crane Co. has a fleet of more than 120 tower cranes, along with mobile and rough-terrain cranes, and many others suitable for diverse applications. Scheduling challenges caused by the building boom affect the suppliers too, area sales manager Mike Brown said. He needs to know well ahead of time when a business needs a crane, so that it doesn’t collect dust in the lot.

“I’m not going to hold a crane here when I’ve got another home for it,” he said.
And given the vagaries of the construction industry, some clients end up finally checking out a crane well after first contact with Coast Crane because of hiccups in the permitting process and other issues.

“I’ve got jobs now I looked at two years ago,” Brown said.

Brown said that right now, a wait of eight to 10 months isn’t unheard of for reserving a tower crane; previously it was two to three months.

Bremik Construction’s Josh Ring has had to educate himself about all these ins and outs of finding the right crane for the right job. For a Bremik midrise project taking place in the Pearl District, neighbors refused to sign an air-rights

agreement. As a result, the contractor was forced to retain a luffing crane – an older type considered less invasive but also less efficient. These days they’re also rare and expensive.

“In six months, everything changes, and you find yourself reinventing the wheel,” Ring said.

The luffing crane was sourced from outside of the area. Travis Wilt of Axis Crane of Wilsonville said many firms are getting their cranes from the San Francisco Bay Area. Companies like Axis rent around the continent.

“It seems like there’s always a crane; it’s just about how much you want to pay for it,” Wilt said.

With rental fees as high as $450 an hour, the growing company is going to have to stay busy to make a project pencil out.

“You never want to underutilize your crane,” he said. “You want to keep that hook moving as much as possible.”

 

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